Thoughts About a Downtown Hamilton Casino (And Why I Don’t Want One)

I think the title makes it clear where I stand on the issue. But just so we get this straight, I don’t approve of gambling in any form, and never participate in any form of game of chance, legal or otherwise. That said, the debate about whether to have legal gambling in Ontario was ripped from our hands over a decade ago, and the OLG is quick to remind us that they have been a benefactor to many foundations and charity organizations over the years,as well as providing the province of Ontario with money for infrastructure improvements and so on and so forth. That said, I truly do believe that the provicne of Ontario has a serious gambling problem, and it’s called the OLG.

The only reason I approve of any casino at all in the greater Hamilton area, aside from the fact that we have one in Flamborough that is heavily dependent upon the employment dollars Flamboro Down presents to them, is that we need to have a legalized gambling establishment to help mitigate the effects of illegal gambling dens and the very real danger they present. People gamble. Not ALL people, thankfully, but a significant portion of the population gambles, whether it’s legal or not. So having a safe, controlled (for certain values of controlled) environment for these activities is actually a good thing.

All that said, I will go to my grave believing that a downtown Hamilton casino would and will be a socioeconomic disaster, and would wear away at everything we have already done to rehabilitate Hamilton’s downtown core. The $200,000,000 being promised is not a real figure as far as Hamilton’s economy is concerned, as most of that money would go to the province, who has, to the best of my knowledge, been notoriously shy about funneling that money back into Hamilton for any good reason. I’m not saying they don’t spend money on Hamilton; we know they fund projects and foundations that Hamiltonians access. But we definitely aren’t reaping the full benefits of the casinos that exist, and I think people need to keep that in mind when we start having sugarplum fairies dancing in our heads waving tens and twenties at us. 5% of the SLOTS, and that’s it. That’s projected to be around $5-7 million dollars. We’re already getting most of that from Flamborough as it is ($4.5 million). We’re not getting a real bonus here. a surplus of $2.5 million is a drop in the bucket, even at the municipal level.

I mean, that IS why our city council is seriously considering drinking from this poisoned chalice, isn’t it? We’re scraping by, the province is scraping by, and we’ve gotten our noses out of joint because our gambling population has expressed a desire to visit a full service casino resort hotel (unlike what Flamboro Downs currently offers), and currently take their gambling weekends elsewhere to do so. I say, let them. The social benefits of letting people visit casinos out of town far outweigh any imagined, promised benefits we’d receive from building such a facility in our downtown core. I truly believe that.

A downtown casino is not the white knight we need. I wish people could get passed this paltry sum of money OLG has all but promised us, because it amounts to diddly squat compared to our city’s annual budget. The significant number isn’t $200 million; it’s $5-7 million, which would be a lot of money for one family, but is a mere fraction of our city’s annual spending budget. It might be hard to wait for something better to come along, but honestly, we can do better. Even Hamilton is better than that.

Patience and prudence are needed. We’re getting along just fine without offering up our integrity to hop into bed with this very fickle client (OLG) who has a history of coming up short (e.g. I’ve heard the stories about the economic revitalisation of Brampton, and frankly, the story has been muddied with misinformation and a convenient ignorance of what really happened to save Brampton; Thank you, Laurier University).

We have a casino in Flamborough. They need the jobs more than we do (yes, they do). They need to save their investments. We need to keep our streets safe and free of desperate people who need money just so they can get home from the casino (or a fix to make themselves feel better after losing at the tables). We’ve seen enough trouble over the past two decades, but we’re coming back to life. Don’t throw all of that under the bus for a speculative venture that promises nothing but made-up numbers and promises no proponent will have to stick to, because OLG won’t be running the casino anyway. Regulations may be put in place, but name me a big business concern that doesn’t spend most of its time and resources trying to find ways around regulations.

We have university and college campuses, numerous upgraded hospitals, exciting new shops, beautiful old houses, fistfuls of new condominium projects, new construction in the downtown core almost everywhere you care to look. And there’s plenty of room for further growth. Look at the plethora of miserable, underused parking lots littered throughout the downtown core that could be bought up, upgraded to parking complexes, and/or converted for commercial use once more.

Graham Crawford anointed it The New Hamilton, and I agree with him wholeheartedly. If you don’t see anything you like yet, give it a bit more time. Good things are finally happening again in our city. They can’t happen all at once, but they ARE happening, and they will continue to happen so long as we stay the course and continue to rebuild from the bottom up, the way we have been. We just need to get over this insecure, knee-jerk neediness to take the very first deal that comes through the door. Our white knight has already arrived… and its name is Hamilton.

Believe it.

Lee.

Don't be shy. Tell me what you really think, now.

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